South Carolina’s top two elected officials are taking different sides in the Rock Hill Senate primary.
After Gov. Nikki Haley endorsed challenger Wes Climer last week, incumbent Sen. Wes Hayes has picked up the endorsement of Haley’s No. 2, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster.
McMaster was to appear in Rock Hill on Wednesday night to endorse Hayes, a 30-year Statehouse veteran.
“Wes Hayes is one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” said McMaster, who presides over Senate proceedings since he was elected to the lieutenant governor’s post in 2014. “Time and time again, when Republican Senators go into battle, they seek Wes Hayes’ leadership on huge issues like ethics, fixing our roads, and education.”
In a statement, McMaster cited Hayes’ support during the years-long “water war” resolved in 2010 between North Carolina and South Carolina over control of the Catawba River basin.
“Wes Hayes’ leadership was key to South Carolina’s water war victory before the United States Supreme Court, which protected York County’s future water supply from North Carolina’s theft,” McMaster said.
The senator, facing a competitive race in the June 14 GOP primary, welcomed the endorsement.
“I am thrilled with the support we have been adding these last few weeks,” Hayes said. “Momentum is on our side.”
‘The favor factory has got to come to an end’
Hayes’ opponent, meanwhile, called the lieutenant governor’s endorsement “no surprise at all.”
“This is one more career politician coming to save another career politician,” Climer said. “This is exactly why I’m running for the Senate. For too long, they’ve all been trading favors with each other, and now Sen. Hayes is calling them in. The favor factory has got to come to an end.”
Climer called it ironic Hayes, running as a champion of ethics reform, would accept the endorsement when “McMaster is the one who blocked ethics reform,” referring to a decision McMaster made as Senate president in April that struck down an amendment requiring legislators to disclose sources of income.
McMaster, who previously chaired the governor’s ethics task force, has said he supports more transparency, but Senate rules simply don’t allow for the kind of amendment supporters wanted to make.
This isn’t the first time McMaster has gone out on his own to make an endorsement in a contested race. Last December, McMaster was one of the first high-ranking South Carolina Republicans to publicly endorse Donald Trump ahead of the South Carolina primary, which Trump went on to win en route to the nomination, sweeping all 50 of the state’s delegates.
McMaster’s latest endorsement comes the same week several GOP senators, including Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey and former majority leader Harvey Peeler, also traveled to Rock Hill to endorse Hayes.